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Energy and environmental sustainability of nursery step finalized to “fresh cut” salad production by means of LCA

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In the agro-food industry, related to the horticultural sector, promising products are the ones called “ready to eat”, “ready to use”. Fresh processed vegetables, belonging to the “fresh cut” products, are considered barely treated and potentially more sustainable than frozen ones. The principal aim of this study is assessing the environmental impact of nursery step for seedlings production, commonly included in the vegetable chain production in Italy and other countries. Four different kinds of salad have been assessed: Cichorium endivia var. crispum (curly endive), Cicorium endivia var. latifolium (escarole), Cichorium intybus var. foliosum (red chicory) and Cichorium intybus var. foliosum (sugarloaf chicory).


The study was conducted following ISO standards on life cycle assessment (14,040, 14,044) with a “cradle to nursery gate” approach. The functional unit (FU) selected was one small plant in polystyrene tray (170 holes); this choice is due to a requirement of repeatability and comparability of the analysis outcomes. Data for inventory analysis have been detected throughout surveys, questionnaires and direct measurements. In more details, materials used for structures, energy and mass flows have been considered. Calculation method selected is the CML 2 baseline 2000 v. 2.05 with the related impact categories.

Results and discussion

Results show that the four species have a comparable environmental load. Differences among the different impact categories are lower than the 30% excluding eutrophication for escarole (−56%) with respect to sugarloaf chicory. Specie that presents the lowest impact is Escarole. This is due to the shorter cultivation cycle. Thermoplastic and plastic materials and their production, substrates extraction and direct emissions from fertilizers and pesticides are the main contributors affecting the environmental sustainability of seedlings production.


Consistently with other studies on similar research topic, energy consumption, such as electricity, gives a load of little relevance. Taking into account only the category of global warming, the absolute average load of one seedling produced is 2.53e-3 kg CO2 eq. Further studies regarding the evaluation of alternative production system with a lower use of plastics and thermoplastics will be useful.

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The authors are grateful to the agricultural company Ambruosi and Viscardi for providing data and allowing the collection of the essential information to conduct this study.

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Correspondence to Daniele Duca.

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Responsible editor: Thomas Jan Nemecek

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Ilari, A., Duca, D. Energy and environmental sustainability of nursery step finalized to “fresh cut” salad production by means of LCA. Int J Life Cycle Assess 23, 800–810 (2018).

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  • Curly endive
  • Endive escarole
  • LCA
  • Mixed salad
  • Polystyrene tray container
  • Red chicory
  • Seedlings
  • Sugarloaf chicory